My 20 year old (at the time) daughter and I were a third of the way through a 7,000 mile cross-country photography road trip. It was my second time shooting in Death Valley National Park but her first visit to California. We passed through the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes planning to roof-top tent camp at the nearby Stovepipe Wells Campground.

But, when we arrived at Stovepipe we found out that the National Park Service prohibits tent camping in the Park after June 1. Safety concerns due to the heat we were told. Fortunately, we were able to find a hotel room across the highway from the campsites. Unfortunately, the window air conditioner didn’t work well and it was hotter in the room that it would have been in our tent.

The alarm on my iPhone said zero dark thirty, when I rolled out of bed. My plan was to catch the sunrise at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes while my daughter caught up on some much needed sleep. A 20 year old can get a tad grumpy when she has to spend a month confined in a car with her dad.

Cup of cheap, bad coffee in hand, I drove the few miles to the Mesquite Flat entrance.

Photography of gnarled roots of a mesquite tree in Mesquite Flat, Death Valley National Park taken by Sioux Falls SD based landscape photographer Paul Heckel.
Gnarled roots of a mesquite tree in Mesquite Flat, Death Valley National Park.
Mesmerizing Mesquite

I had spent several hours trekking across the large sand dunes shooting as I walked. I wasn’t extremely happy with the images I was taking. The day was overcast and the light was dull and lazy. On the way back to my SUV to shake the sand out of my shoes, shorts, underwear, camera bag and other unmentionable places, I came across this mesmerizing mesquite tree. The haze was starting to burn off and the sun had begun to occasionally peak through the storm clouds to the east.

I made several exposures appreciating the incredible light quality and how it softened the gnarled roots. I sealed up my photography gear and took time to enjoy Death Valley’s early morning solitude. The distant rumble of thunder in the background as the storm moved slowly west across the Mesquite Flat valley.

For more information about the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes within Death Valley National Park, click  here.